Skip to content

How DID I spend my 3-day weekend?

David Nunez
David Nunez
3 min read

Just in case you care, here are my rambling summaries of a geekout this weekend (It was quite productive).

  1. Yoshitake Motion Capture System
  2. Hacked a Cuecat
  3. Rsync
  4. Windows Woes (12133958th in a series)1. Compiled OpenGL hack to test my motion capture system to choreogragh Yoshitake… The idea is that it’s an input skeleton of his right arm (which will eventually be under robotic control). At each joint is a sensor to measure angle between “bones.” As I manipulate the arm (which will be essentially, an exoskeleton strapped to my arm) by moving as Yosh would move, the PC interface will capture angles over time. Then, when I build his real skeleton using servos or stepper motors, I just press play over the prerecorded motion.

It’s not working so great, but it’s doing SOMETHING when I twist the potentiometers… I think I just need to tune it a bit… ohhhh the world for a EE degree and Trigger, the radioactive oscilliscope (inside joke)

  1. Hacked a Cuecat I found on a geocache hunt. Cuecats, were a bad idea gone horribly wrong. The company that produced them, Digital Convergence, figured they’d pass millions of these things out for free. They’re barcode scanners. The idea was that a consumer would scan a barcode they found in a magazine, and their web browser would pop up with an appropriate ad page. Likewise with UPC codes on the back of items you buy in the store (ex. books, candy bars, etc).

It’d be easy to explain out why this was a monumental business and usability failure, but that’s not the point of this post. (lots of material out in webland about this topic if you’re so inclined to look).

By the way, cuecats are so named because the moulded plastic is in the shape of a cat (ears and everything) and has the form factor of a mouse… get it? cat & mouse? tee-hee.

However, cats are also stealthy predators. It turns out that each and every cuecat has a unique serial number hardcoded into the circutry. Thus, Digital Convergence could track the scanning patterns of INDIVIDUALS and presumably sell this information. Bad.

Another problem, this one technological, was that these couldn’t be used out-of-the-box as regular bar code scanners. Apparently, they didn’t want to give away useful, general-purpose devices for fear that people wouldn’t ever use them for their marketing purposes. Thus, they built in encryption to the the output.

Let me elaborate. The cuecat operates on top of the keyboard stack. So if you opened up a text document in Notepad and scanned in a barcode, the cuecat hardware outputs text as if it was a regular keyboard. You would hope that this text was the human-readable digits of the barcode. However, built into the circuitry was an encryption algorithm that turned the usable data into gibberish. Therefore, Average Joe User, would HAVE to use the Digital Convergence software to decrypt the barcode. That software would then, of course, collect information about items scanned, and funnel the user to other marketing devices online.

That is the way it’s supposed to work… unless you cut the cat’s whisker. You see, geek curiosity killed the cuecat. (go ahead, take a second to roll your eyes and make faces, “Curiosity killed the cuecat!?!?! Who does this guy think he is?”)

It turns out if you snip just one wire on the inside of the device, then the encryption doesn’t happen and it translates and outputs plain text from barcodes! Yeah! Now I can do any geeky thing I want with barcodes: scan in my library with cross-referenced Amazon or links, sew barcodes into my clothes so I can track what I wear, create a barcode access key to use my computer, etc.

  1. Finally got around to setting up rsync correctly on my Linux server. The hope is that Time Warner isn’t blocking my custom ssh port and that I can sync very large and very large sets of files over the network between my work and home (because rsync is smart about doing incremental updates). Then, I can keep my repository up-to-date no matter where I am (i.e. my Outlook file, over 200MB, can sync correctly. Bookmarks and working files… also shared (across ALL machines in my network (including the Mac). I’m also more inclined to use a news aggregator/reader if I can feel comfortable that when I catch-up while using a computer in one location, it’ll be caught up on other computers, as well).

  2. Desperately tried to repair my Windows box after Cuecat was recognized as the primary KEYBOARD and I couldn’t log in since the real mouse and keyboard were disabled. (I had to go to fry’s to buy a USB keyboard (I took that step, because the computer was reading input from the cuecat on USB, but not the PS/2 ports), run VNC server, and decode and pinpoint the problem in the Registry… needle… haystack… my Sunday).


David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


Related Posts

Members Public

FCC's Vote against Net Nuetrality is a disservice to museums

Yesterday, the FCC voted to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order and dismantle the order’s strong net neutrality rules (New York Times summary of what happened). You have probably read about how this might impact broadband quality for things like streaming television or even basic websites via tiered access

FCC's Vote against Net Nuetrality is a disservice to museums
Members Public

Requiem for Rhinos - behind the scenes video

Members Public

Automatically Unshortening Links in Wordpress Posts

On this site, I have the Broken Links Checker Plugin chugging away in the background. He tirelessly checks and rechecks every link in every post to find URLs that no longer work; pages sometimes just disappear. In most cases, I’m able to use the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to

Automatically Unshortening Links in Wordpress Posts